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Serena begins quest for No. 23 on Australian Open Day 2

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 17: Serena Williams of the United States celebrates winning her first round match against Belinda Bencic of Switzerland on day two of the 2017 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 17, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
January 17, 2017 10:04 AM

By Ashley Marshall, USTA.com

If Day 1 at the 2017 Australian Open belonged to upsets, Day 2 was highlighted by Serena Williams’ quest for history and the continued dominance of American women.

Just 24 hours after five seeds on the women’s side crashed out, 22-time major champion Williams proved she is still among the ones to beat with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over former Top 10 player Belinda Bencic.

The 35-year-old was rarely troubled by the Swiss teen after surrendering a break in her third service game of the match, at one point winning eight of nine games in closing out the opening set and establishing a commanding 5-0 lead in the second.

Williams did not drop a point on her first serve in the second set and she remained aggressive in her return game to overpower the dangerous Bencic, who was ranked as high as No. 7 in the world just 12 months ago but has since dropped to No. 59 after missing most of the second half of the season through injury.

The second-seeded Williams, who can surpass Steffi Graf for the most Grand Slam women's singles titles in the Open era with a victory in Melbourne, will play Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic in Round 2 after Safarova saved nine match points in her victory over Yanina Wickmayer.

Should Williams (pictured above) advance to the third round, she would meet another American, following victories by Nicole Gibbs and Irina Falconi, who will square off in Round 2.Gibbs advanced by upsetting No. 25 seed Timea Babos, 7-6, 6-4, to advance to the second round Down Under for the third consecutive year, while Falconi toppled Xinyun Han of China, 6-1, 7-5, to progress to the round of 64 for the fourth time in a row.

The Gibbs upset gives the American women four victories over seeded players in the first two days of the year's first Grand Slam, following on the heels of Monday upsets by Shelby Rogers, CoCo Vandeweghe and Varvara Lepchenko.

Elsewhere on Day 2, world No. 116 Jennifer Brady defeated Maryna Zanevska of Belgium, 6-3, 6-2, to reach the second round of a major for the first time in her career. The American qualifier, who is looking to crack the Top 100 for the first time, faces Great Britain’s Heather Watson, ranked 81st, on Thursday.

In the men’s draw,18-year-old Frances Tiafoe earned his first Grand Slam victory with a 6-1, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2 win over Mikhail Kukushkin. The American won 81 percent of points on his serve and used his piercing ground strokes to dictate the match, which was played entirely from behind the baseline.

Tiafoe next faces fellow up-and-coming teen Alexander Zverev for a place in the third round, where ninth-seeded Rafael Nadal likely awaits.

Also victorious on Tuesday was Donald Young, a 6-4, 7-6, 6-4 winner over Thomas Fabbiano, and Ernesto Escobedo, who beat Daniil Medvedev of Russia, 7-5, 4-6, 7-6, 6-1.

A number of young Americans also gave a good accounting of themselves in defeat. Seventeen-year-old USTA Australian Open Wild Card Challenge winner Kayla Day took five games off former world No. 9 and French Open semifinalist Andrea Petkovic in her Australian Open main draw debut, and Reilly Opelka came within a few points of toppling No. 11 seed David Goffin before ultimately succumbing in a five-set thriller.

A pair of highly regarded 19-year-olds, Taylor Fritz and Michael Mmoh, were also among the casualties on Tuesday, losing to Gilles Muller and No. 25 seed Gilles Simon, respectively, and qualifier Jared Donaldson pushed Rogerio Dutra Silva of Brazil before eventually falling in the fifth.

Among the 13 Americans in singles action on Day 3 are No. 13 seed Venus Williams against Stefanie Voegele, qualifier Noah Rubin against 17-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer, Samantha Crawford against seventh seed and reigning French Open champ Garbiñe Muguruza and Steve Johnson against reigning US Open champion and No. 4 seed Stan Wawrinka.

Day 3 also sees the top two American men's seeds, John Isner and Jack Sock, in action, plus the start of the doubles competition, which features the Williams sisters and Bryan brothers.